New blog location

This free site has been great to get started with, but the limitations of it have become more and more apparent, so I’m in the process of migrating the content to – I can have a lot more control over the hosting, look and feel, themes, plugins, etc. I don’t really like the way it looks at the moment, so you’ll have to bear with me while I tinker with it for a bit, but nearly all the content from this site should now be on there.

I’ll leave this one running a while before shutting it down.



Crispy pig’s ears with nasturtium and caper tartare sauce

The finished dish

The finished dish

I finally got around to making the crunchy ears starter. I saved the ears from the last head I bought (for guanciale / brawn). The Nasturtiums are pretty much finished now so I wanted to do this whilst they were still in flower.

You need:

  • 2 fresh pig’s ears (ask your butcher or farmer – they’ll like you even more for asking)
  • A small white onion, a carrot and a celery rib, diced
  • Half a sliced leek
  • A bouquet garni (Parsley stalks, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme wrapped in the outer leaf of a leek and tied with string)
  • About 10 black peppercorns

For deep frying the ear slices:

  • Panko breadcrumbs (you could use matzo meal instead, or just normal breadcrumbs)
  • Beaten egg
  • Well seasoned flour
  • Veg oil

For the caper tartare sauce:

  • A few finely diced shallots
  • A tablespoon of finely chopped nasturtium capers (normal capers will do nicely too)
  • A tablespoon of gherkins or cornichons, finely chopped (bonus points for pickling your own)
  • A hard boiled egg
  • About 100g of mayonnaise (bonus points if you make it yourself)
  • Nasturtium flowers
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley
  • The juice of half a lemon

First of all get the ears on the go. Give them a good scrub. Shave them, or use a blowtorch to get rid of any hairs.

A matching pair of ears

A matching set

Pop them into a pan with some cold water. Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes then take them out and discard the water.

Refill the pan with cold water and add the ears and the other ingredients.

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Bring to a simmer (don’t boil them), and simmer gently for a couple of hours, until a knife or skewer passes through them easily.

After simmering for a couple of hours

After simmering for a couple of hours

Whilst the ears are simmering away, make the tartare sauce:

Put the finely chopped egg, gherkins, capers and parsley into a bowl and add the mayo and the lemon juice. Mix well, season to taste, and then add most of the nasturtium flowers and leaves. Save a few flowers and leaves to for garnishing.

Once the ears are tender, put them between sheets of greaseproof paper, weigh them down with a couple of books or something else flat and heavy, and leave them to cool.

Dried and ready to be pressed

Dried and ready to be pressed

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Fry the ears up:

Once they’re cool and flat, slice the ears into long, thin strips

Mmm, cartilage

Mmm, cartilage

Dust with flour, then beaten egg, and then cover with the Panko breadcrumbs and deep fry until crispy

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Crisped up nicely

Crisped up nicely

Serve your crispy ear-based crackling snacks to your unsuspecting guests, or sit and munch them all yourself 🙂

Verdict: Not at all bad. The panko breadcrumbs are super crunchy and not greasy (make sure the oil’s hot enough!) The cartilage is crunchy when you bite into them. However, the real winner of this plate is the nasturium caper sauce, which is bloody delicious and offsets the ears brilliantly. Next time I’ll get more heavy handed with the seasoning of the flour.

Cold smoked chorizo

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo

This is a cold smoked, Mexican style fresh chorizo sausage.

I made these to test out my original curing chamber setup (with the vivarium controller), as they only need to hang for about 5-7 days. Plus I wanted to use my newly built cold smoker 🙂

Shopping list (adjust the amounts according to how much meat / fat you have. The ratios are important):

  • 1.5kg pork shoulder, or a mixture of shoulder and belly, diced into 1″ cubes
  • 650g back fat diced into smaller cubes than the meat (if you can’t get back fat, use a greater ratio of belly)
  • 40g Sea salt
  • 6g of Cure #1 (pink salt)
  • 25g dried chilli powder
  • 3g white pepper
  • 75g dehydrated skimmed milk
  • 15g dried cumin
  • Thinly sliced spring onions – 120g or so, green part included
  • About 60ml cold water, and some ice cubes
  • Natural hog casings
  • Cold smoker / dust / pellets

Get your sausage on:

Important: Make sure you’ve got your grinder blades in the freezer for a few hours to help keep everything super cold and stop the fat smearing when grinding, and get your hog casings in some warmish water so they’re ready to be stuffed. If you have room, put the meat and fat into the freezer for a while too.

  • Put ice cubes in one mixing bowl and then put the other bowl into it
  • Mix the diced meat, salts, herbs and milk powder together and grind them through the coarse plate on your grinder, into the iced bowl
  • Grind the fat through the fine plate into the iced bowl with the meat in
  • Mix this all together with the spring onions and a splash of cold water, it’ll go sticky when you mix it – you want this
  • Take a small piece and fry it off in a pan to check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. Make sure that you put the rest of the mixture in the fridge while you do this
  • Rinse the casings out thoroughly. Don’t let go else they’ll disappear down the plug hole!
  • Stuff your sausages into the casings, and twist into links. Whatever length you like
chorizo coil

Chorizo coil

chorizo links

And now with links!

  • Put them uncovered in the fridge overnight to build up a pellicle so that they take the smoke better
  • Stick them on your cold smoker for a few hours (I think mine had about 5 hours), they should have some nice colouration by then
Looking pretty good after a cold smokin'

Looking pretty good after a cold smokin’

  • Then hang them in the fridge (curing chamber, etc) for about 5 days. Ideally they want about 70% humidity. Mine were in there for a week and the humidity was all over the place, but they turned out fine. I was testing out the viability of the reptile vivarium controller as a curing chamber controller at the time, but I decided that more control was needed, hence sausageBot was born.
Hang them for about 5-7 days

Hang them for about 5-7 days

  • You can then freeze them and they’ll keep for ages, or keep them in the fridge for a couple of weeks max.
  • For bonus points, vacuum seal them – they take up less room and you won’t get any freezer burn. Plus it’s good fun.
Vacuum packed for freezing

I love this thing.

That’s it!

Unsurprisingly you can use them like any fresh chorizo – they’re particularly good with chicken, in risotto, or just fried up as a tapas dish.

Rainier cherries in syrup

Rainier cherries

Rainier cherries

It’s been a bumper year for the Rainier cherries. I picked 6Kg from the tree in the back garden in about half an hour (strictly speaking it’s my neighbour’s tree and I just picked the branches overhanging my garden).

So I’m left with a conundrum: What the hell am I going to do with them all? I pickled some – but that only used 400g. There’s no room in the freezer because it’s full of meats and stock.

No choice but to preserve them. I’d got a load of jam and pickle jars I’d saved up since last year, so no issue there.

There are loads of recipes online for canning / preserving fruit. I found this one on Simple Bites

I used triple the amount of cherries but you can adjust this accordingly:

  • 1Kg cherries
  • 1L water
  • ~300g sugar (adjust depending on how sweet your cherries are. These are really sweet)
  • Vanilla pods (I cut them up into quarters, one per jar)
  • Sanitised jars with “poppy” seal type lids – I put mine through the dishwasher, they were old gherkin jars from work.
  • Cherry stoner / pitter

While the jars are in the dishwasher, wash, de-stem and stone your cherries. You could do it manually with a knife, if you’re a masochist. It takes quite a while even with a stoner, and I couldn’t face doing any more after about 2Kg. So I kept some whole to fill some other jars.

Put the stoned cherries in water with a splash of lemon juice to stop them browning.

Dry your clean jars off in a low oven and keep them warm.

Then make the syrup – put the sugar and water in a pan and bring to a simmer, so that the sugar’s totally dissolved. Keep it on a low heat for now.

Put a huge pan of water on to boil. I can only get 3 jars at a time in mine. If you have a trivet to put in the bottom of the pan to keep the jars from the direct heat, then so much the better.

Put a piece of vanilla pod into each warm jar, and then cram as many cherries as you can in. Leave a little room at the top so you can cover them totally with the syrup.

Cover the cherries with the hot syrup, and give them a bang on the work surface to loosen any trapped air. Make sure the thread on the jars is super clean (use a clean towel with a little boiling water on if there’s bits of cherry stuck to them), and then hand-tighten the lids.

Transfer them to the huge pan of water you’ve got simmering. The water should cover the jars completely. Simmer them for about 18 minutes. You should see bubbles coming from the jars during this time.

After 18 or so minutes, lift them out of the hot water and put the next batch in. A jar-lifter is really very handy here.

Let the jars cool down, and listen out for the “pops” from the lids as they seal. Any which don’t pop inwards you can keep in the fridge, the others are shelf safe.

Here are my jars full of cherries. They seem to have lost some colour which is a shame, but I was pleased when they all went pop!

Rainier cherries in syrup

Rainier cherries in syrup

Another sausageBot session

Had another good sausagebot curing chamber controller session tonight with Spandex. We’ve got the enclosure almost completed now and it’s starting to come together really well. Still need to work out exactly how to fix the lid on properly, but the tabbed corner pieces are all glued together and the base and sides too. I think the next job is to start wiring all the innards up and testing it before we finalise the enclosure structure as we know it’ll look sweet once complete.

Some pics of tonight’s progress…

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off rear view

sausagebot top off rear view

Top on front view - sexy!

Top on front view – sexy!

Next time we’ll get all the innards fixed into place then onto testing and software development 🙂 It occurred to us tonight that we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time designing and building the enclosure but it’s time well spent I think. The really exciting stuff is up next!

Nasturtium ‘capers’

Nasturtium capers

Nasturtium ‘capers’

Nasturtiums are great plants. Easy to grow, good looking, and most importantly – you can eat them – flowers, seed pods, the whole shebang.

The flowers look great on a salad, they’ve got a really peppery taste – but I often just eat them straight off the plant (after a quick bug check!)

Nasturtiums plants

There are 3 nasturtiums plants in this basket

Flower and seed pod

Flower and seed pod

Pick the seed pods when they’re young (before they start to turn a reddish colour)

Seed pods and flowers

Seed pods and flowers

Give them a good rinse and split the larger pod trios into separate pods. Make a brine with 50g sea salt and a litre of water and soak them overnight, then wash them well and dry them.

Put them in a sterilised jar with a couple of bay leaves, cover them in white wine or cider vinegar, and that’s it. You could add whatever you like to the jar – rosemary, peppercorns or thyme. It’s up to you.

Leave them somewhere cool for a couple of weeks or so before using. They will last almost indefinitely, and they’re great in potato salad, or with fish dishes.

Home made pastrami


Just look at it

Pastrami is just brined and smoked corned beef. It’s easy to make and it just takes a few days from start to finish.

The version is from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie book.

Here’s what you need.

  • A good quality piece of brisket (or beef plate if you can get that) – about 2kg
  • Coriander seeds
  • Black pepper

For the brine:

  • 4L water
  • 350g sea salt – or other salt without caking agents.
  • 225g sugar
  • 90g Muscovado sugar – or other soft brown sugar
  • 42g curing salt #1 (pink salt)
  • 8 grams pickling spice – you made a load up last time I hope? Just grab the jar off the shelf. If you didn’t – mix black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, ground ginger, blade mace and chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar. Or just buy some ready made pickling spice.
  • 60ml honey
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed.

Prepare the meat for brining:

  • Trim off all the surface fat from the meat. It’s worth taking your time over this. The final product can be a bit chewy in places if you leave it on. I didn’t take enough off the one in the main picture, so I’ve learned a lesson.

Then make the brine.

  • Put all the brine ingredients into a large saucepan.
  • Bring the brine to a boil, and then simmer until everything’s dissolved.
  • Let it cool, then put it in the fridge to chill.
  • Once it’s chilled, put your brisket into the brine. You can use another container if you can’t get the pot in the fridge. Weigh it down with something (a plate?) so that the meat is totally submerged. This is important.
  • Refrigerate it for 3 days
  • Take the beef out of the brine and throw the brine away. It’s done its job.
Brisket after brining

Brisket after brining

  • Dry the beef with kitchen paper. Make sure it doesn’t stick to the meat.
  • Blitz equal amounts of coriander seeds and black pepper in a coffee or herb grinder, or use a pestle and mortar if you want to make a mess and waste an hour. You need enough to cover the meat evenly.
  • Coat the meat with the coriander and pepper mixture
Brisket before smoking

Brisket before smoking

Now you’ve got options:

If you have a hot smoker, smoke that badboy until it’s 150F in the middle, as slowly as you can so it gets loads of smoke on it.

or if you don’t (I don’t, yet) you can cold smoke it, and then finish it off in the oven until it hits 150F in the middle. I tend to put it on a rack above an inch of water when it’s in the oven.

Once it’s cooked, wait until it cools, then slice it thinly. Serve it on good bread, with mustard, sauerkraut and gherkins. Or just stand there and keep shoving slices into your face. It’s bloody amazing.

Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

I need to somehow process the 6kg Rainer cherries I picked yesterday, and this recipe sounded so weird that I had to try it.

The recipe is from Diana Henry’s book “Salt sugar smoke”.

You need:

  • 500ml white wine vinegar
  • 3tbsp salt
  • 12 bruised black peppercorns
  • 400g cherries (these are rainier cherries)
  • 5 sprigs of tarragon
  • sterilised jar with a vinegar proof lid

All you need to do is

  • bring the vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil, then leave it to cool
  • put the cherries and tarragon into the jar, cover with the vinegar solution, try to get the air bubbles out by banging the jar, then put the lid on
  • wait 2 weeks before eating.

I have no idea how these will taste. There’s no sugar in the recipe, and although the cherries are really sweet I get the feeling that it might turn my face inside out!

I’ll report back in due course. I need to find something to do with the other 5.5Kg cherries now!

sausageBot enclosure progress

Looks pretty good!

Looks pretty good!

You can’t really see the base on the picture above due to the white table, but you get the idea. We laser cut all the enclosure parts last night – apart from the lid. We accidentally used the wrong piece of perspex for the base, which meant we didn’t have enough left to make it! Oh well.

Laser cut the corner blocks

This laser cutter really is magic

Here’s what the corner blocks look like when they come off the cutter. The pegs cut out from the middle are used to fix them together.

Corner blocks

This gives you an idea how the corner blocks fit together

One of the side panels

One of the side panels with passive cooling vents. The base also has these vents cut into it

Side panel with blocks

Side panel with blocks. Those tabs fit perfectly into the slots.

The next job is to glue the corner blocks together, then fix all the electronic components and the relays to the base, and build the “walls” – i.e. everything apart from the lid. Once that’s done we can wire it all up and start running some tests and writing the software.

This thing really is complete overkill for curing a few sausages, but it’s gonna be bloody great when it’s finished 🙂

Making Brawn

There are myriad versions of brawn, or head cheese, fromage de tête, whatever you want to call it. This version is from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to tail”. It’s basically a jellied meat terrine.

I’ve been unable to find anyone willing (or able) to supply me with a pig’s head, until last week. I’ve asked in various butchers and each time I’ve been given a blank look. I guess no one makes this anymore. I found that the organic farm shop a few miles from home can supply heads, trotters and back fat! Huzzah! Back fat is almost as tricky to get hold of as a pig’s head, because no one likes fat these days apparently, the fools.

Ingredients for making brawn

Ingredients for making brawn

So to make this Brawn recipe I needed:

  • A pig’s head
  • 2 pig’s trotters
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 onions
  • Parsley, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, rosemary, sage, plus about 2 tablespoons of cracked black peppercorns, all wrapped up and tied in muslin
  • Bunch of curly leafed parsley
  • A good slug of red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • A VERY large stockpot
  • A couple of loaf tins or terrine moulds, plus some clingfilm
  • A packet of disposable razors
  • Patience

First of all you need to prep the head. Wash it all really well (don’t forget to clean the ears!) and give it a good shave with the disposable razors (you’ll need a few – I got through half a dozen) – doing that feels a bit odd to be quite honest. Give the trotters a good going over too – make sure you check between the toes!

Pig's head for brawn

Pig’s head for brawn – give it all a good wash and shave

You can imagine my girlfriend’s face when she wandered into the kitchen half asleep on Sunday morning to find me shaving a pig’s head with a bic razor 🙂

So, depending on how large the head is, and how large your pot is, you might need to saw it in half, or even into quarters in order to get it in there. Mine just fitted in the pot, albeit with the nose a little higher than I would have hoped for. If you’re sawing the head apart you’ll need a bone saw or a clean hacksaw with a new blade. Scoop out the brain and work out how you’re gonna cook it, if you are. Deep fried? On toast? Up to you. Mine came without the brain. I found out later that it was also missing the tongue, which was a real shame.

Some brawn recipes call for the head to be brined for 24 hours before cooking, but not this one, so I skipped the brining.

Once you’re happy with your shaved head, wash and peel the veg, then put everything apart from the sea salt into your huge stockpot, fill it with cold water, and bring it slowly up to a simmer.

Adding the veg and herbs to the pot

Add the veg and herbs to the pot

Adding the head to the pot

Add the head to the pot – this one only just fits!



Simmer very gently for about 3-4 hours, or until the meat is really soft and coming away from the head. Make sure it never fully boils!

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Periodically scrape off any scum which floats to the top. I did this about 8 times during the simmer.

Then lift all the pig bits out of the broth (it’ll be falling apart by this stage – so be careful) and let it all cool down enough to be able to handle the meat.

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

Take all the meat off the head, shred it with your fingers and set aside. Pull the tongue out, peel the skin off it and dice it. Put this in with the other meat. If there’s any meat on the trotters pull that off, or simply discard them, they’ve done their job by now.

Mix the chopped parsely in with the diced and shredded meat.

Strain the stock into a clean pan through some muslin to get rid of all the bits, then cook this over a high heat until reduced by about half. Your house will smell very piggy by this point.

Get your loaf tins or terrine moulds ready – line them with clingfilm and arrange the meaty bits in them.

Check the seasoning of your reduced stock (It’s worthwhile seasoning heavily as this will be served cold, reducing the final flavour), then gently pour your stock over the meat and parsley, cover and pop into the fridge to set. It’s worth trying to get any remaining bubbles of air out while it’s still warm, you can bang it on the worksurface or or poke it with a spoon handle, etc to do this.

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

I didn’t get anywhere near the yield I was expecting but that’s because I took both jowls off for Guanciale, and because the tongue was missing!

Still, I only paid £6 for the head, trotters and about a kilo of back fat, so I can’t complain – according to the receipt the head was free, and it’s not every day you can say that you got free head 😛

Once it’s all properly set (overnight in the fridge is best), put a plate on top and invert it. Remove the clingfilm, cut a slice off and marvel at the porky wonder that is your brawn!

Tip it out of the terrine

Tip it out of the terrine

Slice a piece off, grab a home pickled gherkin or some cornichons from the jar, butter some some crunchy bread and potato salad and you’re set. And pour yourself a beer.

Plated up

Plated up

To be honest it tastes good but it needs really heavy seasoning – a lot more than I added – and it’s a bit too jelly-heavy, but it wobbles nicely 🙂 It needed about double the amount of meat, if I’d only kept one jowl back and the tongue there!

If you put some hard boiled eggs in it before it sets it would be like a jellied Gala pie. mmmm. Next time I’ll do that and make Fergus’ Crispy ear and sorrel salad to go with it.